“He’s good, isn’t he?” said a smiling David S. Goyer, show writer and executive producer, as Ryan took the seat next to him on the dais. Also on hand for the discussion was actress Angelica Celaya, who plays Zed Martin (a replacement for Lucy Griffith’s pilot character Liv). “You saw her back at the very end of the pilot,” noted panel moderator Brian Truitt of USA Today.
Truitt first asked Goyer what makes writing John Constantine special versus some of the big name DC Comics characters he’s worked with, like Batman and Superman. “He is a bastard,” Goyer said dryly, promising fans that they haven’t “de-balled him for network TV” and noting that he’s “so much fun to write.”
“And so much fun to play,” Ryan chimed in. Remarking on how well Ryan embodies the character’s trademark gruff look, Truitt asked where he began developing his on screen persona. Ryan said he was given a bunch of comics by Goyer and that he dived into the source material. “I started taking notes and letting this character come off the page to me, and tried to glean as much as I could. There’s so much there to get from, it’s amazing.”
Ryan pointed to the “Dangerous Habits” storyline as one of his personal favorites, and a few audience members showed their agreement. “If we stay on the air long enough,” Goyer said, telling the crowd that was where they came in, “we’ll definitely be doing that story arc. We’ve already adapted actually quite a number of interesting issues and arcs within the first 12 episodes. So you’ll see some of your favorite issues show up.”
Though we only catch a glimpse of Zed’s “artistic ability” in the pilot episode, Celaya said she’ll provide an interesting foil for Constantine. “She’s a little badass and she doesn’t stand for Constantine’s BS. She’s a little crazy one.” She characterized the relationship between her and Ryan’s characters as “a little push and pull — or sometimes just push and push.”
Goyer added that Zed’s rich backstory will be addressed, prompting Truitt to ask if it would be a “slow burn between Zed and John.” “We throw a bunch of petrol on everything in the next episode and all of it’s on fire,” Goyer responded. “It gets ridiculous. And then Papa Midnight shows up in episode three and it gets more ridiculous.” Jim Corrigan will appear a few episodes later, and though Goyer noted they’ll have to spend some time building his character, there will be a nod to his future as The Spectre as early as the first episode.
Talking about other familiar DC faces that will appear in the show, Ryan said, “We’ll be introducing a bunch of the characters from the Newcastle Crew,” the group of occult experts with whom Constantine battled the demon Nergal, an event that is a crux of the title character’s early motivation. “We’ll be seeing Gary Lester, Anne-Marie, and a couple others as we get down the line.”
Goyer added that Newcastler Ritchie Simpson, portrayed by Jeremy Davies and featured in the pilot, will be a recurring character, and that Frank North will also appear. He went on to say that other DC Universe characters will “be filtering in” throughout the first 12 episodes. A crowd member called out for Doctor Fate, whose helmet is teased in the pilot. “Eventually,” Goyer laughed, “someone is going to show up claiming that helmet that you saw.”
The supernatural elements of the show will also lead to some strange scenes for Ryan’s Constantine. Asked what the weirdest so far has been, he said, “One of David’s episodes that he co-wrote, he had me naked covered in [chicken] blood doing this weird spell sermon.” “To a Buzzcocks song!” Goyer chipped in. “It was really good fun, but I was in blood all day and I couldn’t sit down,” Ryan said.
Speaking about how much the work of the original “Hellblazer” comic creators would influence the show, Goyer said they were “privileged” to be able to build off material from some of what he called “the best writers and artists in the business.”
“Look,” he said, “if we go into a second season, I would love to have some of those writers write episodes for us as well.” Sporadic approval sprung up from the audience at that remark.
When asked what her favorite part of the show was besides being Zed, Celaya said it was building a trusting unit amongst the cast and crew. “We get into the zone and we set the momentum, and our creative juices flow out and everybody’s extremely respectful. To work with Matt, and I can just throw myself into the scene and he’ll just catch it.”
Goyer said that they were excited to finally get the show onto the air after already shooting nine episodes, and offered a smirk when asked if viewers could expect a mid-season cliffhanger. “I like cliffhangers, if anyone’s seen my other shows,” he said.
He then revealed that the studio wasn’t initially sold on the idea of Ryan as Constantine, but that he was sure of it from the start. The actor had sent in a self-filmed audition tape that Goyer joked was “horribly lit,” but he was in a theater production at the time that required him to have a large beard. “Didn’t look anything like Constantine. He had this great performance, but it was very hard to see John Constantine in there. I was just running around the halls of Warner Brothers saying, ‘This is the guy! This is the guy!’ And they were saying, ‘No, that’s not the guy.'” Goyer told the casting director to keep Ryan locked into his option, while he subtly sabotaged other auditioning actors. “Because I knew that Matt was the guy! So I was just waiting for Matt’s play to end so he could shave his freaking beard.” Three weeks later, a beardless Ryan flew out to audition in person and the network approved.
“He’s such a three-dimensional, multi-faceted character that you just want to be true to the DNA of the character and the comic books,” Ryan said regarding the challenges of playing Constantine once he’d nabbed the role. “But also make it your own as well. It’s something I’m still working out; I’m getting to know him more and more.” He said he hopes to be able to play the character for a long time. “Again that’s up to you guys,” Goyer added. “Tell your friends!”
Discussing whether being on network TV has forced them to stifle Constantine’s foul-mouthed nature, Goyer said, “There’s some artful language happening. I’m kind of surprised at what we’ve gotten away with, actually.”
There’s been a lot of chatter recently about NBC not allowing Constantine to partake in one of his other characteristic bad habits: smoking cigarettes. But Ryan assured everyone that aspect hasn’t been cut out of the story; they’ve just had to be sneaky about it. “We’re constantly finding ways of getting it in there, so you’ve got to look out for that as well. See it as a challenge rather than a hinderance. Every episode is like, ‘Where is it gonna be?’ And we’re finding all sorts of ways to get it in there.” Indeed, there are a few cigarette butts in the pilot.
Finally, Goyer was asked to reveal any other juicy tidbits about the show. While he said Lucifer is in the background but too big to show right away (“Five seasons and then Lucifer!” a fan called), The First of the Fallen does have a presence earlier on. “You hear his voice in the third episode.”
The panel wrapped with Goyer turning the questions on the audience, asking which characters they’d like to see make the leap from page to screen. Everyone from Zatanna to Doctor Fate to Raven was called for, but Goyer had a personal favorite of his own. “I’m lobbying right now for Detective Chimp.”
Constantine premieres October 24th on NBC.
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